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The Raid on Deerfield

by Kathy Copeland Padden about a year ago in Historical
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Deconstructing the myth of colonist victimhood

Do you people know what time it is??

Ifyou visit the Old Burying Ground in Deerfield, Massachusetts, tucked away in the back corner there is a grassy mound with a weathered gravestone atop it. The only inscription it bears is the date “1704.” This centuries-old memorial honors fifty inhabitants of the tiny village killed in the overnight hours of February 28/29 by French and Native American raiders.

The death walk to Montreal

The rest of the town’s inhabitants — 100 people in all — were forced by their captors to march north in the bitter cold and snow to Montreal. Some collapsed and died along the way; others who couldn’t keep up were hacked to pieces.

When they arrived in Canada, 88 prisoners had survived the ordeal. Most of the captives were sold to the French, who in turn ransomed them back to the colonists over the course of several years.

If you were from the area(as I am) this was the horror story you grew up hearing. We were told the version handed down for generations by the English colonists. As always, the victors create the official narrative for posterity.

Photo by Deerfield History Museum

What happened in Deerfield was revolting, but it was not an isolated incident. It was one event in a chain reaction ignited by the centuries-old English and French animosity. Three Native American tribes (the Wabanaki, Hurons, and Mohawks) in the “New World” added to the stew of drama and resentment.

Everyone had their own agenda

The French King, Louis XIV, had a vested interest in New England. The last thing he wanted was the English colonizing further, especially north of Massachusetts. At the time, Deerfield was the most north-westerly English settlement, and Louis XIV wanted to keep it that way. A raid on Deerfield was definitely in France’s best interests.

Sheldon House Photo by Historic Deerfield

France had no shortage of willing combatants. There were many Canadian-born French nobles willing to fight for perks and promotions. In addition, the French needed more skilled labor for their burgeoning settlements, and the English knew how to construct sawmills and other useful things. This made them very handy to have as captives.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend at least for now

The Native Americans who allied themselves with the French forces had their own reasons for doing so. They were (rightly) enraged at the English colonists for their land-grabbing. Some were interested in procuring captives to use as slaves or sell for ransom. When certain tribes lost family members, the women allegedly demanded raids to replenish their numbers.

There was plenty of killing going on, and the English were doing more than their fair share. It’s no secret that the colonists were aggressively taking away lands belonging to the Native people, and had no problem wiping out huge numbers of “savages” to do so. Also, killing the French had been a favorite English pastime for hundreds of years. Crossing an ocean had done nothing to change that.

Photo by Town of Deerfield

The colonists were not the blameless victims generations of New England schoolchildren learned about. The attacks, from the Native Americans at least, were a retaliatory response to the colonists' ongoing aggression.

But not every English colonist involved in the raid ended up dead, enslaved, or bitter. Several girls from Deerfield stayed in Canada and went on to marry Native American or French Canadian men. The Deerfield girls were welcomed and adopted by the Mohawk tribe and settled near Montreal.

I’m all set, Dad, thanks

For some, there was even a happy ending. The daughter of Deerfield’s pastor, Eunice Williams, refused to be ransomed from Canada despite her father’s urging. She was happily married to a Mohawk man and had no desire to abandon her new life. However, Eunice returned to Deerfield several times to spend time with her family. So apparently, there were no hard feelings in her case.

And, having learned nothing, the colonists continued to pillage and plunder their way across the continent, playing the victim anytime the Native Americans dared to retaliate against colonial tyranny.

Photo by Deerfield Period Homes

Historical

About the author

Kathy Copeland Padden

Political junkie, history buff, and music freak spending the End Times alternating betweencrankiness and bemusement. Come along! It's fun!

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